Thursday, July 24, 2014

Flashback to the 90s: Inventing the Abbotts (1997)

R, 116 min. Directed by: Pat O'Connor. Release Date: Apr 04, 1997. DVD Release Date: Mar 13, 2001.


Occasionally dry, but with a host of great characters leave this small town movie worth watching.

Every once in a while, I find a movie set in a small town an amazing piece of character work. Most recently, I happened upon 1947's Peyton Place which was not only INSANELY risqué by the standards of the time, but a masterpiece of weaving all these unique characters together. For me, Inventing the Abbotts runs along the same mien, and even has some of the same risqué discussions, although the 50 real years that separates the production of these movies dims that a bit. The writer was able to use a fairly traditional small town setting to create a sort of tapestry out of the relationships between two families: the Holts and the Abbotts. While there's significant back story that isn't shown, it all seems to work well.

The ensemble cast here is fairly well conceived, although it seems that in many cases that they were after a certain "type" more than a certain skill… but in truth I feel that way about Liv Tyler every time I see her. She's a spot on choice for a beautiful girl that doesn't require a lot of real acting.
When we're not watching Billy Cruddup actively despoil the Abbott sisters and pretty much destroy any sense of healthy relationship with his family because of his blatant inability to use his brain when making a decision, there's really not all that much going on. Improved editing would have minimized lulls in the story.

It's a hard choice between Jennifer Connolly's eyebrows and Joaquim Phoenix's hair lip scar, but I'm leaning toward the brows.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flashback to the 90s: Threesome (1994)

R, 93 min. Directed by: Andrew Fleming. Release Date: Apr 08, 1994. DVD Release Date: May 01, 2001.


Funny and sexy, this movie explores how endlessly changing and complicated a friendship can become.

My praise should be tempered with reality: this is not high-brow, intelligently written comedy. This is trashy and sleazy in a way the creators of Porky's would have applauded. The movie is laced with sexual innuendo and double entendres to the point where Terry Pratchett, one of my favorite authors, might have said that they made a double entendre out of innuendo. Silly as it is, this movie is genuinely funny in a way that's a bit out of keeping with modern comedies.

The story explores how muddled friendships can be between men and women, and even between men when one of those men is gay. While the interplay is exaggerated, even under the best of circumstances, I think the root of the problem, confusing friendship for sexual attraction or love, is real enough. I also think the setting was well-timed. College, and those years in the late teens and early twenties are when we push the boundaries set by our parents and really experiment with our identities. This movie probably wouldn't work even if the characters were a few years older.

Despite all this, I think the cast is somewhat weak. Throughout the movie, there are times when it seems like they're not acting, like this is their personality shining through the personality of the character they're supposed to be playing. It's not constant, but it does happen, and it detracts significantly from the overall performance.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flashback to the 90s: She's All That (1999)

PG-13, 95 min. Directed by: Robert Iscove. Release Date: Jan 29, 1999. DVD Release Date: Jan 15, 2002.


Fun and hip, this is the grand dame of the modern teen film genre.

She's All That was the film that started, or I should say "restarted" my interest in the teen film genre. It is, for the most part, the pattern that all teen films since have been based on. There's nothing totally unfamiliar, but it has the distinction of being the first film to use this kind of pattern since the late 1980s.

Despite a story that's been beaten to death by Hollywood, this movie has a special place in my heart. It never fails to make me smile, and I love the cast... even Freddie Prinze, Jr. was good here, and I don't send many compliments toward Mr. Sarah Michelle Gellar. This is fun and frisky, and it's got a freaking Oscar-winner on the cast, what more can you ask?  If you're struggling, Anna Paquin was the youngest human to ever win an Academy Award for her role in The Piano. You might wonder how you go from that to teen flicks to being a B squad mutant, as do I. After much soul-searching, I figure we can chalk it up to life sucking when you peak at 7.

I will say that this probably won’t hold up well if you weren’t a teenager in the 90s… although I grudgingly admit that most of these teen flicks have commonalities regardless of what decade they were made in.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Flashback to the 90s: Clueless (1995)

PG-13, 1 hr. 37 min. Directed by: Amy Heckerling. Release Date: Jul 21, 1995. DVD Release Date: Oct 19, 1999.


Ridiculous and stereotype-enforcing, but still pretty funny.

I remember seeing this in the theaters.  It was the summer before I went away to college and I was there with two friends, Todd and Jennifer, who were kind of waffling on the verge of dating.  I think this was the last time they spent any time together, but all three of us could quote this movie still when I saw them again in December.

The biggest problem here is the language. When this movie came out in theaters, I was 18 and from southern California. I only actually understand about 60% of the dialogue. However, "buggin," "crimson wave," and "as if" succeeded where "fetch" from Mean Girls did not. They actually found some use in slang. While the dialogue is often hard to understand, even with the ambiguity it's funny.

I mention this movie is stereotype-enforcing, and I say this because Clueless seems to have felt the need to fill the vacuum that the death of 90210 left behind. It portrays American teens as mindless, selfish and spoiled drones incapable of communicating with the world around them and utterly unconcerned about it.

Once you get through the crap, this movie cracks me up. Alicia Silverstone was perfect for the role of Cher, and her chemistry with Paul Rudd makes for some great exchanges throughout the film.

Brittany Murphy was well, Brittany Murphy, but it works in the movie. The cast is very funny, and the antics they get involved are, I think, semi-realistic for American teens. Sex, drugs, drinking, parties, etc. There's nothing to revealing or far-fetched here except that most of these kids are packing Visa Platinums with no preset limit.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Flashback to the 90s: Kiss the Girls (1997)

R, 117 min. Directed by: Gary Fleder. Release Date: Oct 03, 1997. DVD Release Date: Oct 06, 1998.


Intense, gritty, and edgy, this is the stuff that all thrillers should be made of.

Kiss the Girls' greatest strength was whichever person was in charge of creating the ambiance for the scenes. The person was a freaking genius. It's rare for a film to be able to manage so much suspense without pushing the line into something that's actually frightening. Lighting, set design, and the background score were very subtle and well done, and the three together probably saved this movie from the fate of the other Robert Patterson novels that have been adapted to film.

It's also slightly hard to fail if you add Morgan Freeman into the cast. Sure, it's happened. Yes, I've seen Along Came a Spider, Prince of Thieves, AND Bruce Almighty. Morgan Freeman's mere presence seems to provide an air of legitimacy to whatever he does. Shit, what would Wanted have been without him? A meager action flick with a strange ensemble cast, that's what.

But seriously, this is a great suspenseful story. It gives us a little bit of everything we crave from a crime thriller: a raving psychopath, marginally realistic police work; at least, as marginally real as TV or big screen police work ever gets, a victim turned hero, and incredible interplay between the characters. There is a lot of depth here, even when looking at characters that don't get much screen time.